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Don't take kirpans to school - Sikh Council of Australia

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Don't take kirpans to school - Sikh Council of Australia

December 14, 2007

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Sydney: School students should not be allowed to carry the kirpan, says the Sikh Council of Australia, the apex representative body of Sikhs in the country, about the dagger worn as an article of faith by baptised Sikhs.

Bawa Singh Jagdev, secretary of the council, told IANS, "Kirpans should not be allowed at schools at all. The wearer or the initiate must understand its (kirpan's) significance, utility and consequences if used for any purpose other than what it is meant for. Now the question of student wearing this kirpan in the school, does he understand the significance or its utility?"

"The council is of the view that although it's an article of the Sikh faith and if some family wants his 10 or 12 year old to be initiated, they can leave the kirpan at home and go to school, come back and wear it. The reason being it can be harmful to the wearer. Suppose two or three boys get together and remove his kirpan, they can harm him," he adds.

In one of the most multicultural countries in the world, it can be a challenging task to strike a balance between protection of religious freedoms and the safety of other students.

An inquiry into dress codes and uniforms in schools in Victoria by the Education and Training Parliamentary Committee recommended "that the Department of Education and Early Childhood development require all Victorian schools to accommodate clothing and other items with religious significance where appropriate, within a framework developed by the Department".

The Committee received a substantial body of evidence, during its yearlong inquiry, addressing the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse communities, particularly with respect to clothing and other items with religious significance for the wearer.

The two items most frequently mentioned throughout the inquiry were the hijab (Islamic headscarf) and the kirpan.

The Sikh Interfaith Council of Victoria in its submission to the Committee said: "We believe having a common school uniform is important in promoting school identity and integration. However, it is also important to recognise that there is no hindrance to the practice of various cultures and faiths. Students should be able to wear their significant religious symbols and articles of faith ... Christian crosses, hijab, yaramulka (Jewish caps), kirpans."

Chairperson of the committee, Geoff Howard, told IANS: "We accepted that the kirpan could be carried by a small group of baptised Sikhs. We are certainly not in favour of banning kirpans as such, but if there are safety concerns, the department of education can work with the schools to develop a solution."

Despite the recommendation of the committee, Victoria's Department of Education is unlikely to allow carrying kirpans in schools.

A spokesperson for the department told IANS: "The overarching guideline is that weapons are not permitted in schools, but individual uniform policies are developed by schools in consultation with parents. The department is not aware of any of government schools in the state that allows the kirpan."

"The parliamentary committee has submitted the report and the department will provide responses to each of the recommendations, including kirpans, within the six month deadline," the spokesperson added.

The president of the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals, Brian Burgess, told the Sun Herald that the kirpan could be used as a weapon.

He said: "I would not support this in any way, shape or form. It's not appropriate that something that can be used as a weapon is brought into school."

Kirpans are worn only by initiated Sikhs under the shirt and must not be exposed.

"Approximately eight percent of the total Sikh population in Australia are initiated or baptised Sikhs, who always carry the kirpan on him or her. However, the Council has no information on the number of baptised Sikh students in the country," says Bawa Singh.

According to the 2006 census conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there were 26,429 Sikhs in Australia with the largest number of 11,637 residing in New South Wales followed by 9,071 in Victoria, 2,636 in Queensland, 1,393 in Western Australia and 1,226 in South Australia. IANS

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